Adreian Payne, 6-foot-10 power forward, Michigan State
2013-14 stats: 16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 BPG, .503 FG%, .790 FT%
Perhaps the best recent example of a player developing throughout a four-year college career, Payne transformed himself from a raw athlete to a polished, versatile type somehow underrated due to his relatively advanced age. Overcoming tough circumstances growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Payne always had star potential because of his size and explosiveness, but it wasn’t expected that he would become both a skilled post-up scorer and a legitimate three-point threat, while playing with the toughness and physical nature common of Tom Izzo’s players. Payne also drew praise for his character — whether dealing with asthma issues early in his career and learning after the fact that he played through mononucleosis during the second half of his senior year, to the inspiring relationship he forged with a little girl suffering from a terminal illness — and his maturity is another trait that should enable him to make an immediate impact in the NBA.
Career highlights: Payne entered Michigan State as a highly-touted recruit, but played only a small role as a freshman before cracking the Spartans’ starting lineup his sophomore year. He was more a shot-blocking specialist and a limited offensive player, but as a junior, Payne emerged as a consistent rebounding force, pulling down 7.6 boards per game, while beginning to become an efficient low-post scorer, expanding his range to behind the three-point arc and surprisingly, leading the Big Ten in free-throw shooting at 84.8 percent from the line, en route to second-team all-conference honors. As a senior, Payne put even more emphasis on his long-range shooting and even with more attempts, shot an improved 42.3 percent from deep, while increasing his scoring average to 16.4 points per game — a 33-point effort against Texas and a career-high 41-point performance against Delaware in the NCAA Tournament helped boost his totals in that category — and finishing his career as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots.
Strengths: Payne can step into virtually any system as the coveted stretch power forward that’s in vogue these days in the NBA, but can also serve as a more typical back-to-the-basket player, along with possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor for straight-line drives. While it’s unlikely that he’ll be a dominant rebounder or defensive player, but because of his length and ability to play above the rim, he can undoubtedly make valuable contributions in those areas, too. There’s still a need to add a bit more bulk to his frame, but from a maturity standpoint, Payne’s skill set and willingness to be a complementary piece gives him a great chance of not only making a splash in the league, but sustaining a prominent role for years to come.
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Weaknesses: As Payne’s shooting range improved, he displayed a tendency to float to the perimeter on the offensive end of the court and settle for contested jumpers rather than take advantage of his size. Some of that is due to not possessing advanced ballhandling skills, as well as still needing to gain strength in order to finish more effectively on the interior. While he was a shot-blocking presence and a solid rebounder in college, Payne’s length and athleticism should dictate him being more of a force in those aspects of the game, and since he’s unlikely to be a featured offensive option at the outset of his professional career, greater focus can be devoted to improving those areas.
Draft projection: At 23, Payne is considered ancient in comparison to the 18- and 19-year-olds also in the draft, but because of his progress thus far, there isn’t a consensus as to whether he’s a finished product just yet. As a result, while most observers expect him to be drafted anywhere from the mid-teens to the early-20s at the absolute latest, it wouldn’t be a shock to hear Payne’s name called in the late lottery, if a team believes he fills a specific need and prefers the promise of his impact as a rookie to a younger prospect’s gradual development. Depending on the situation, Payne could begin his career as anywhere from one of the first big men off the bench to a starter for a team in need of a power forward with three-point range. Either way, expect him to have a long, steady NBA tenure as a versatile role player with the tools that could improve the fortunes of a franchise in need of his specific skill set.